12 Memorable Brand Campaigns In 2018

This article is part of our series about 2019 trends, predictions, and new opportunities. Click here for more.

In an age when consumers can binge-watch ad-free programming and block most ads on their screens, breaking through with a campaign is a real brand achievement.

It’s not necessarily a new technology or star power that causes a campaign to gain wide currency. Rather, it’s typically a big idea that has emotional weight. The advertisers on this list didn’t just get consumers’ attention—they made consumers feel something.

And the ways they did so varied tremendously. Some used cutting-edge immersive technology, while others relied on outdoor ads or TV spots. Some campaigns were funny, and some were helpful. Others were creepy, while still others were heartwarming.

We hope they will inspire you in 2019 and beyond.

1. Netflix’s ‘Altered Carbon’ Campaign
Set 300 years from now, the Netflix series “Altered Carbon” is about a time when humans can transfer their brains via a “cortical stack” to human sleeves. Well, no stranger to experiential marketing, Netflix set up a display at January’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) featuring nearly nude actors who played the part of humanoid creatures of the future–but CES visitors didn’t necessarily know this was a Netflix stunt. The experience promoted Psychasec, the fictional company in the series. The actors who stayed in character as representatives of Psychasec. Netflix even staged fake protests against the company at the show. Yes, it was creepy, but it also illustrates how marketers can create their own sealed worlds, just like content makers and entertainment properties do.

2. Coca-Cola’s AR World Cup Tribute
Coca-Cola feted the 2018 World Cup with an augmented reality (AR) experience outside of Zurich’s main train station. The station featured a giant screen that acted like a mirror, offering a video reflection of anyone who stood in front of it. The screen also featured Switzerland soccer pro Xherdan Shaqiri and made it look like passers-by were playing alongside the star athlete. This experience seemed made for Instagram and was on-brand as well, providing an upbeat tie-in to the international tournament. For other brands, the execution points to a way to make out-of-home ads interactive using AR.

3. Disney Lets You Sleep In Star Wars’ Universe
Disney is making the most of its 2012 $4 billion purchase of the Star Wars franchise with Galaxy’s Edge. Described as a theme park experience, Galaxy Edge goes further than most by offering a luxury Star Wars hotel in Florida that lets visitors sleep in the Star Wars universe. Others can visit Oga’s Cantina, a functioning bar replete with Star Wars characters. When it comes to “immersive,” Disney seems to be raising the bar: It’s one thing to see a movie and go home. It’s another to live in a movie and wake up in it. Consider this the latest example of a brand going the extra mile to offer consumers an experience they can’t get anywhere else.

4. Ikea’s Pee Ad
Can an ad be gross and heartwarming at the same time? Absolutely, if Ikea’s innovative print ad is any indication. The ad, in Sweden’s Amelia magazine, beckoned readers to take a dropper of urine to a portion of the ad. Antibodies on a strip in the ad were designed to bind to the pregnancy hormone hCG, changing the color and revealing a discount on an Ikea crib. Swedish agency Åkestam Holst worked with Mercene Labs to create materials that could be distributed on a wide basis. But this wasn’t just a weird stunt. The ad was a way get the word out about Ikea Family loyalty program to new parents. It also tied in with Ikea’s “Where Life Happens” campaign in Sweden because, as Åkestam Holst creative chief Magnus Jakobsson told Adweek, “‘Where life happens’ is all about life’s everyday situations, and being pregnant is definitely one of those.”

6. Amazon’s Alexa Super Bowl Ad
Speaking of which, not one to do things halfway, Amazon bought a 90-second Super Bowl ad this year. The star-studded ad featured Rebel Wilson, Cardi B, and Anthony Hopkins filling in for Alexa, who, we were told, lost her voice. (Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos also has a memorable role in the ad, playing himself.) As of this writing, it had received close to 50 million YouTube views and won USA Today’s AdMeter. Another ad for Alexa, released just before the Super Bowl ad, was just as memorable, though very different in tone. In it, an older woman faces post-holiday sadness but finds one last gift: an Echo. Soon she realizes that the Echo can provide a video chat with her far-off family. In different ways, both ads underscore how much Alexa has become a part of the fabric of our lives.

7. Microsoft’s Heartwarming Holiday Gaming Ad
Proving that TV ads can continue to have emotive power, this ad starts out familiarly with kids in a neighborhood heading out together. It’s a Norman Rockwell scene that could take place in any U.S. suburb that experiences cold weather. But just when you think you know what’s coming, there’s a surprise: It turns out they are all lining up to see 9-year-old Owen killing it on a video game (we never see which one) that he’s able to play thanks to an Xbox Adaptive Controller. Owen has Escobar Syndrome, a condition that limits his mobility. As one YouTube commenter surmised, “You’d have to be dead inside not to like that advert.”

8. Toyota Heart Reader Print Ad
If you think Ikea’s urine ad was a tad over the top, perhaps you can appreciate Toyota’s heart reader print ad. The execution, in the March issue of InStyle magazine, opened up when readers pulled on paper door handles that included a pulse reader. The insert revealed an LCD showing the reader’s current heart rate. It also played the simulation of a heartbeat. The device didn’t actually read the reader’s heartbeat but made its point about the 2018 Camry. Saatchi & Saatchi created 50,000 inserts of the ad, a process that took eight months of research.

9. McDonald’s ‘Follow The Arches’ Campaign
One theme with this year’s list is that many old-school and analog ad unit formats still offer many possibilities. Add to this list out-of-home ads. As a McDonald’s campaign from Canada illustrated, clever creative can override any perceived limitations of a format. In this case, agency Cosette used snippets of the McDonald’s Golden Arches as directional cues for drivers. For instance, a cut-off image of the top of an M pointing right ran alongside a billboard saying “on your right.” The campaign, originally on just four billboards, is expected to be extended globally.

10. Adobe’s Hurricane Harvey Photo Restoration Project
As painful as it is to do so, most of the items families lose in a disaster are replaceable. One big exception: family photos. Unless digital versions have been saved to the cloud, once family photos are gone, they’re gone. The good news is that photo-editing software can restore photos that would have otherwise been beyond repair. Working with local relief organizations and Adobe, students from all over Texas pitched in to help victims of Hurricane Harvey restore their precious family photos. (CMO.com is owned by Adobe.)

11. LG At Bonnaroo
Getting Millennials and Gen Zers interested in washing machines sounds like a tough challenge. But LG rose to the occasion by offering free washes at Bonnaroo, the music festival. LG’s LaundROO offered 25 washing machines, 25 dryers, and an LG Styler steam clothing-care system in a 3,600 square-foot activation area at the July event. Since much of the crowd at the Manchester, Tenn., festival camped out, getting laundry done was a welcome free service, one that no doubt reflected well on the brand. The activation also included a vintage clothing swap. Working with vintage shop What Goes Around Comes Around, LG provided 2,500 pieces of clothing so that festival goers could swap their own clothes, which were then cleaned in LG washing machines and dryers, for something off the rack. After their clothes were cleaned, other visitors could swap their clothes for the newly cleaned items. Like other modern marketers, LG knows that brands are better off being helpful than interruptive–something to keep in mind as we head into 2019.

12. Visa’s Millennial Women Push
Most marketers’ ham-handed overtures toward Millennials deserve to be parodied for reducing their target to bearded, ukulele-strumming takers of selfies. But Visa attempted to cast such stereotypes aside with its “Women and Money” campaign. Aimed at Millennial women, the campaign opened the a dialogue about gender pay, financial etiquette, and the hush-hush nature of money. Visa also architected the campaign so the first phase would be about learning more about the target group. As Visa’s SVP of North America marketing, Mary Ann Reilly, told CMO.com, the brand hadn’t been meeting that target audience’s needs. That’s a good place to start for any marketer who has been befuddled by Millennials.

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